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By Eduardo Kohn, B’nai B’rith Director of Latin American Affairs

Two days after the rampage of Oct. 7, 2023, Israel and the whole Jewish community were in shock. The rest of the world, if it were at all sensitive, should have been astonished and outraged by the brutal massacre perpetrated by Hamas. The Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant publicly announced a “complete siege” of Gaza. Replying to Gallant´s words, the Colombian President Gustavo Petro said, “This is what the Nazis said of the Jews” and added: “democratic people cannot allow Nazism to reestablish itself in international politics.” Petro went further when he also added that Gallant’s wording amounted to “hate speech” which, if allowed to continue, “will only bring a holocaust.”

Not a single word of Hamas’ barbaric attack came from Petro himself or his office. Petro published dozens of social media comments on the events since Oct. 7, provoking an acerbic exchange with Israel’s Ambassador to Colombia Gali Dagan, who urged Colombia to condemn a “terrorist attack against innocent civilians.” In his response, Petro said: “terrorism is to kill innocent children, whether it be in Colombia or in Palestine,” as he urged the two sides to negotiate for peace. Dagan then invited Petro to visit the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem and the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, to which Petro responded: “I have been in Auschwitz, and now I see Auschwitz copied in Gaza.”

The Colombian President did not intend only to banalize the Shoah. He has a decadeslong (when he was a member of the terrorist Colombian group FARC and afterward the Mayor of Bogota) of attacking Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist attacks, whether they originate from Hamas or Hezbollah. His thoughts and feelings have been expressed after Oct.7 and repeated by his Foreign Ministry, which finally issued a statement to “vehemently condemn the terrorism and attacks against civilians that have occurred in Israel” and expressed solidarity with the victims without mentioning Hamas, not even once. In a speech on Wednesday, Petro announced he will break diplomatic ties with Israel for having a “genocidal president.”

When a president speaks as Petro has, it is incitement. If he wanted widespread support in his country, he failed. Only his associated extreme left parties, which are the main supporters of his government, backed him. Fortunately, the incitement has not led to any violent consequences against the Jewish community so far. But the threat is on the table everyday: social media, certain media outlets, and some unions view the president’s ongoing attacks against Israel as implicit approval for similar actions that could make the Jewish community feel unsafe.

Less than a month after Oct. 7, Chilean President Gabriel Boric paid an official visit to the White House. Chile has the largest Palestinian community in South America, with nearly 400,000 residents live there, mostly Christians as well as a large number Muslims who have immigrated from Palestinian cities over the last three decades. After meeting with President Joe Biden, Boric held a press conference. Two days before his visit to Washington, Boric had condemned Israeli military’s air bombardment of Gaza and recalled his envoy to Israel. He told Biden that Israel’s actions were violating international law. “The Hamas attacks are without justification, they deserve global condemnation, but the response by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government also deserves our clearest condemnation,” he told reporters. “The right of a state to defend itself has limits, and those limits imply respecting the lives of innocent civilians, especially children, and respecting civil humanitarian law.”

But Boric did not stop attacking Israel. Chile joined South Africa in the presentation of the Africans before the ICJ accusing Israel of “committing genocide”.  A baseless and political accusation to hurt Israel and the Jewish people was endorsed by Boric without hesitation—his incitement has had consequences against the Jewish community. Jews in Chile have received brutal attacks in the streets, in shopping malls, near Jewish centers, along with ongoing threats through social media and relentless harassment.

The government has made little effort to defend its citizens. In this specific case, the result of Jewish hatred from the highest levels of government makes it clear that anti-Semites feel empowered and supported. From day one as president, Boric has shown his aggressive attitude against Israel as he had done in previous years before arriving to La Moneda, the presidential house of Chile. When the Israeli Ambassador was invited to receive his credentials in 2022, the ambassador was not permitted to enter La Moneda. Despite the great scandal this caused and the outrageous behavior of the Chilean Government, diplomatic relations between the two countries were not interrupted. But after Isarel began to defend itself following Oct. 7, Boric recalled the Israeli Ambassador.

In February, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, speaking from an African Union summit in Ethiopia, said: “What is happening in the Gaza Strip with the Palestinian people has no parallel in other historical moments. In fact, it did exist when Hitler decided to kill the Jews.”

“We will not forget nor forgive,” Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in response. “It is a serious anti-Semitic attack. In my name and the name of the citizens of Israel, tell President Lula that he is “persona non grata” in Israel until he takes it back.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu said Lula’s remarks amounted to “Holocaust trivialization and an attempt to harm the Jewish people and the right of Israel to defend itself. The comparison between Israel and the Holocaust of the Nazis and Hitler is crossing a red line”.

It is not the first time that Lula crosses red lines vis-a-vis Israel. When Israel declared him “persona non grata”, his reaction was to recall his Ambassador in Israel. Israel in response, did the same and recalled their Ambassador in Brazil. And of course, Lula said publicly that he would not take back from his words. When Israel was defending itself against a Hamas attack in 2014, Lula called the defense a “genocide”. This time he decided to make a brutal banalization of the Shoah; moreover he also decided to endorse South Africa’s case of genocide brought against Israel at the ICJ.

Ten years ago, Lula was extremely close to then-Iranian President Ahmadinejad and hosted him in Brazil. Today, Lula has not been very clear on his stance on the war in Ukraine and has condemned Russia very “carefully”, due to pressure from his G20 partners. At the end of the day, today, Brazil is close to Iran, China, and Russia, and is very far from giving Israel the right to defend itself.

The leftist governments elected democratically in Latin America are joined by the same goal regarding Israel-related issues: forgetting Oct. 7 and attacking Israel´s right to defense itself. They have been vocal to fabricate the accusation of “genocide” against Israel when the situation is completely the opposite: Hamas has a main goal to commit genocide against the State of Israel and if they would have had the possibility, they would have not killed and raped and kidnapped on Oct. 7th, but would have killed a million, 3 million—all of the Israelis if possible.

Those governments that endorse the South African accusation are demonstrating how far their Jew hatred goes and which partners they want to follow. We could expect such a behavior from dictatorships like Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela, but when Jew hatred comes directly from a government elected democratically, there is clear and present danger for Jewish communities today and in the future.

Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith International Director of Latin American Affairs since 1984. Before joining B’nai B’rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, click here.